News briefs

News in brief from the ageing agenda, featuring bites of information about recent research, technology, conference and government movements.

  • Movement on the PCEHR
  • A new rheumatoid arthritis research development
  • Call to appoint a ‘Commissioner for Older People’
  • Palliative Care Victoria Conference has started
  • More talk on antipsychotics

The Brotherhood of St Laurence
has become a member of the international United Nations’ Open Working Group on Older People, to advocate for rights of older people

The Brotherhood will use its membership as a step forward in recognising the special and ever-changing needs of older Australians.

“Older people have made a significant contribution to our success,” said Simon Biggs, Brotherhood chair at the University of Melbourne and senior manager, retirement and ageing at the Brotherhood of St Laurence.

“Just as the vulnerabilities of women and children has been recognised by human rights law we support the introduction of a Convention for older people to make sure they are not penalised’.

The organisation encouraged Australia to adopt the UN Convention to support the human rights of older people internationally, at the annual meeting of NGOs earlier this week.

“We believe the Convention would improve the position of older people in Australia in so far as it would reduce the marginalisation of older people, increase their social inclusion and help eliminate disadvantage specifically associated with later life.”

The 2012 Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA) National Conference will be held from 2-5 September at the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre (GCCEC).

The theme, ‘Through the Looking Glass – In search of Wonderland’, will explore recent industry change and the need to move into the future, collaboratively.

Issues relating to ACFI, workforce and reform will be on the cards, as will an additional pre-conference Leaders Workforce Forum, a post- conference ACFI Workshop, and an Eden in Oz workshop.

The national conference of the not-for-profit peak body aims to bring more than 1000 aged and community care leaders from across Australia.

For more details on the program, visit the ACSA conference website.

The federal government has announced that general practitioners will be paid to help set up patients’ electronic health records.

The federal Health Minister, Tanya Plibersek, last night said that GPs will be eligible to receive Medicare payments for the time spent preparing shared health and event summaries, as part of establishing a patients’ e-health record.

She also confirmed the extension of the e-health Practice Incentive Payment (PIP) until May 2013.

The announcement, made in Canberra, comes after significant lobbying by the profession for government to appropriately recognise the additional time required by GPs to support patients wishing to create and/or curate a Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record (PCEHR).

“The announced e-health patient rebates are no longer tied to MBS complexity requirements,” Professor Claire Jackson, RACGP President and Chair of United General Practice Australia (UGPA) said.

“This means GPs will be able to prepare both event summaries and shared health summaries with the additional time required counting towards total consultation time.”

“GPs who are yet to set up their practice with e-health capabilities now have more time available to them to get their practice ‘e-health ready.

“A shared electronic health record has the potential to improve our patients’ health outcomes and their experience of the healthcare system.”

University of Melbourne researchers are working on a new therapy that can potentially control the pain caused by diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.

The research relates to a family of molecules first discovered in Melbourne that applies to blood cell development. One of these, granulocyte macrophage colony-stimulating factor or GM-CSF, acts as a messenger between cells acting at a site of inflammation.

The research therefore attempted to answer whether blocking GM-CSF action lead to a new treatment for inflammatory diseases?

Professor John Hamilton and Dr Andrew Cook had previously shown that blocking GM-CSF function with an antibody suppressed the disease leading to clinical trials which are already showing patient benefit.

Following this latest research, they have found that GM-CSF depletion also suppresses pain in such models; they have also noted similar efficacy in an osteoarthritis experimental model.

The results were published recently in the top ranking arthritis journal, Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases.

“Without a doubt, quality of life and to be free from pain are important issues for people suffering with arthritis-related conditions” said Prof Hamilton.

“With our ageing population, the more common condition of osteoarthritis impacts more on our community and medical resources. A new therapy that can block such painful conditions would have massive benefits for health providers and governments in the future” said Dr Cook.

There is always room for even the best palliative care service in the country to improve, according to an international palliative care physician, Professor Ilora Finlay.

Member of the UK House of Lords and Cardiff University’s Professor of Palliative Medicine, Ms Finlay, has spoken at the Palliative Care Victoria Conference in Melbourne today and shared her insights on the way things are done in the UK.

According to the The Quality of Death: Ranking end-of-life care across the world (2010) by the Economist Intelligence Unit, the UK leads 40 developed nations in terms of its hospice care network and statutory involvement in end-of-life care.

It also ranks number one in availability and quality of end-of-life care. Australia rates third and second in each area, respectively.

But, Prof Finlay said, the UK – just like Australia- must not be complacent with the way things are done because there is always room to improve.

“Care must never stand still or be complacent.”

“…In the UK, we are trying to improve care of the elderly by raising staff awareness of palliative care issues. The majority of staff are motivated and do well, but of course you only need one who has a bad attitude and patients suffer as a result.

“Palliative care is included in the undergraduate curriculum of all medical schools in the UK but is not part of all nurse training. That is a major deficit.”

Older Victorians face widespread and entrenched ageism, according to the Victorian Parliament’s Inquiry into Opportunities for the Participation of Victorian Seniors report.

The inquiry found that older Victorians are discriminated against in the workplace and in society generally and that this ageist culture and discriminatory employer attitudes need to be challenged and changed.

COTA Vic (Council on the Ageing) has endorsed the inquiry’s recommendations and now urges the state-Baillieu government to implement the necessary changes that would make Victoria a good place for people to grow older.

“One way of ensuring a transition to an age-friendly state would be to appoint a Commissioner for Older People”, said acting CEO of COTA Vic, David Craig.

“Such a Commissioner would be an independent voice and champion older people to ensure that those who are vulnerable and at risk are kept safe.”

“A Commissioner for Older People would also make sure that their concerns are heard, that their human rights are protected and that they do not feel isolated or discriminated against.”

According to the 2011 census, there are 417,041 women and 344,541 men over 65 years in Victoria.

“The aged population will increase to well over one million in a few years’ time and unfortunately over the past years responses to ageing have been quite piecemeal, so we desperately need a whole of Government response driven by an independent Commissioner for Older People who reports to the parliament.”

COTA Australia has supported the call for a review of the use of antipsychotic medications on residents of nursing homes living with dementia after revelations that their risks outweigh their benefits in the majority of people.

“There is now significant expert advice that the misuse of such drugs is widespread, despite other effective remedies available for elderly people in need of treatment for dementia symptoms”, COTA CEO, Ian Yates, said.

“Antipsychotic drugs are not meant to be a long term remedy for dementia. They have far-reaching side effects including the increased risk of heart attack.

“Essentially they work as a sedative, and while there is some benefits in their use, they should only be used in the short-term and not as a long-term solution.”

“…The continued over-use of antipsychotic drugs for people with dementia is a violation of basic human rights, and it should not be accepted.”

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